May 29, 2014

[Kind of] a long weekend

Wednesday, I went to look at another apartment, this one very close to Marianplatz and actuality owned by the local DinkelAcker brewery. Turned out to be too expensive and too competitive to even make it worth putting an offer in on it. If you wanted to rent it, you had to not only install a new kitchen ($3000) but also successfully interview with an owners representative.

At this point, I am looking at renting an apartment of our own like home ownership in the US.

Afterwards, I met Saori at her office for a goodbye party for one of the interns, Ryan. There was a lot of beer and ice cream and sekt (local sparkling wine) and the two Mexican interns brought some tequila shot mixed drink they'd cooked up.

For me, one of the really endearing things about México and Mexicans is the warmth and happiness you get from them when you appreciate their country and culture. It feels to me that Germans take it for granted that everyone appreciates Germany, or should, with some understanding about hard feelings from France and the UK. If you like German culture, food, cars, etc, they seem to think, of course, why wouldn't you?

I think México has been undervalued for so long, it's almost embarrassing how excited Mexicans can get if you appreciate it for what it is.

Originally, we were going to catch a train to Munich Thursday morning since today was a holiday. Unfortunately, we realized too late that the cheap train tickets we'd planned on using were not valid on that day so we decided to scrub the trip. Plus we're going to go in early September anyway. We ended up taking S bahn to nearby suburb city village of Esslingen, which was pretty and charming and super close.

May 25, 2014

Bridge week

This week I spent most of my working time at the office working on a bridge design. The bridge is a twisting form filled with a gradient of perforations, so I've been working in grasshopper, an add on to Rhino (3D CAD software) to automate the panelization process. It's a long and frustrating process, probably second only to making each panel individually. But at the end, I was happy with where I ended up with grasshopper.

The next project I'm working on is renovations to an old house of a friend of the boss. Easier work. The office is kind of waiting right now for a new competition to be launched that I can jump on, and Leo is also leading a team rushing to finish another competition.

Saturday morning we split up to run errands. Saori went to go grocery shopping for the dinner that night and I went out to pick up some items and do my own shopping. From the Indian store, I picked up spicy green chilies and cilantro. In the city center, I got a connector cable to hook up music players to the speakers in the competition room where I work, and I picked up a small mortar and pestle for Chandra and Shiva so they can grind spices for their cooking. I also stopped by Feinkostböhm, a gourmet grocery store, and picked up a bottle of Hollunder flower syrup.

Saori and I kept seeing the same tiny white flowers we ate for dessert at Smøgen on plants around Stuttgart, and the smell was the same, a sweet citrus like aroma. It turns out they are the same, a plant called Hollunder, and they sell a syrup of it, which you can put on pastries, mix with sparkling water to make soda, or I want to try making pancakes topped with it.

Anyway, I stopped back by camp Fox to pick up a change of clothes and leave the mortar and pestle in the kitchen, and went back down to Saoris place, where she was cooking for dinner.

We had been invited to dinner with Ryan, one of the intern architects at Saori's office, along with his former roommates. Saori prepared a delicious asian fried chicken marinated in tons of ginger and soy sauce, and I made guacamole. Saori actually discovered a bag of small red chiles imported from Zimbabwe which turned out to be ridiculously spicy, so I was very happy and threw a few in the guacamole. Needless to say we had the best dishes there.

The guests and hosts were quite interesting. There were two young German lawyers (one of whom was still a student and got a little drunk to celebrate her one day off from studying), an enthusiastic young German woman with a British English accent with Mario mushroom earrings who does the local "teach for America" equivalent (and who is now exhausted after 2 years). Ryan is American, from St. Louis, and educated in Kansas City and now at Harvard for architecture.

One of my old coworkers from DWL, Nick, left to Kansas City for his Masters and ended up teaching there. It was strange and made me feel a little old to be having dinner with one of his students. His girlfriend, Jeehon, is Korean and also studying here. It was a nice night.

May 24, 2014

Tübingen

Last Saturday Saori and I took a train to Tübingen, a town a little over an hour away. Tübingen has several attractions, mainly the Altstadt, the Neckar river, and Tübingen castle. It was a bit overcast when we're arrived, so we decided to skip the paddleboat on the Neckar river and walk down the tree-shaded island in the center. Tübingen is close enough and charming enough to be a pleasant retreat for Stuttgarters.
The city climbs a gentle hill from the center of the Altstadt up to the castle. Saoris guidebook suggested we check out the museum of archeology at the castle, which is also part of Tübingen University and a center for archeological and scientific research. Apparently, nucleic acid (DNA juice) was discovered there. The museum of archeology had a surprisingly good collection of Egyptian and early middle eastern artifacts. The highlight of the museum was their collection of 35,000 year old Paleolithic figurines carved with surprising grace and skilk into mammoth ivory. It's some of the oldest artwork in existence.

The time scale is staggering. We are closer to year 0 than the construction of the pyramids. The pyramids were built 5,000 years ago. The mammoth carvings were 30,000 years beyond that.

Anyway, afterwards we wandered around and through the Altstadt, enjoying the boutiques, little canals, and medieval layout. We worked our way back to the river to a recommended brauhaus. It was a nice day on the weekend and the patio overlooking the river was packed, so we had to grab a sunny table inside. We ordered a surprisingly good and strong May Bach beer and some local Schwabian specialities like Spätzle-käse which is basically macaroni and cheese but with super eggy potato noodles instead of macaroni and really good cheese.

Thoroughly tranquilized we wandered back through the town enjoying the late afternoon. Until we came across some colorful paper cutouts hanging in the breeze. Mexican papel picado is instantly recognizable, so of course we had to go in to the store it was decorating.

We walked in to a grand opening winding down. The store sold Mexican foods and decorative items like the colorful vinyl tablecloths, designery stuff with Frida Kalho images, an odd assortment of stuff from some of the tourist markets. I was overjoyed to find salsa so we picked up two bottles of La Condesa brand like I used to eat in DF. But at €6 a bottle, to be used sparingly in moments of required spiciness. They also had corn tortillas made reasonably fresh in Munich, so we picked up some too. The owners, a Mexican German couple, were also excited by our excitement so they sent us home with some free avocados and cilantro.

We also sat down at a little cafe in the church plaza and watched the musician club set up a small symphony orchestra to play. Lots of Jazz and old American tunes by the sound of it. It was nice.

At the end of the day, we jumped a train and sped back to Stuttgart. We will have to come back for a lazy Sunday of beer and paddle boating sometime.

May 18, 2014

Smogen

Saori and I went out to dinner Friday night at a very nice restaurant named SMØGEN. It was kind of a celebration meal for the completion of my first assignment at work, and for my first month-ish here in Stuttgart.


The restaurant was strange and charming, located in an old building in the red light district, small and upscale, with a kind of library feel to it. A giant wooden propeller spun lazily over the foyer to move air around. The food is gourmet Scandinavian with a Michelin star awarded chef presiding over the kitchen. Which was strange because up to that point, I thought I was making reservations for a really nice Italian restaurant by the name of Irma La Douce, which was the former restaurant there.


Anyway, the meal was delicious, but probably the most visually appealing and strange I've had in a long time. They brought out complementary salmon sushi, a thin slice on top of rice, except the rice was a variety neither Saori nor I had ever seen, and green to boot.


Then they brought out a small clay pot with a sad looking plant in it. It turned out to be another appetizer- the plant was actually two small radishes with stems, planted in a bed of wasabi cream topped with what we assumed was toasted rye bread crumbs which were crunchy, but not burned, and nearly coffee ground black as the "soil." It was delicious as we actually used our spoons to keep dipping into the pot of soil after we'd finished the radishes.


I had some incredible scallops and Saori got a veal tartar, which was a very precisely shaped bed of veal tartar topped with green sauces and microsalads like a mini playground. For our entrees, I ordered venison with berry sauce and Saori got turbot with yuzu sauce. Saori's plate was arranged like a painting of sauces, mostly in greens, but the entire plate looked like a oceanic themed painting. The peas that came with her dish were actually a bit crunchy, and the best peas Saori had ever had. My venison was butter tender, and sandwiched between thin slices of potato. With the savory forest berry sauce, I felt like I was in the forest with every bite. It was served with the tip of a spring of pine, which had a cluster of tiny new pinecones, each the size of a pin, which were edible, piney, and incredibly delicate to nibble on.


Desert was fascinating. They brought out a shallow bowl filled with fresh sliced strawberries, small round goat cheese pieces, bits of white chocolate, and a fresh herbs including things that looked like clover and tiny white flowers. The server then filled the bowl with a water made from an infusion of the white flowers which was also sweet and citrusy, and we ate the whole thing with a spoon, including all the little white flowers.


The second stage of dessert was two more "potted plants," this time served in small galvanized pails the size of cups. The plant was young rhubarb, and below the sweet crunchy soil was rhubarb ice cream.


The final stage of dessert looked like chocolate cake at first glance. Actually, it was a very rich aerated chocolate, like they took chocolate and extruded it like Styrofoam. It was a little cool to taste, but instantly melted and fizzed on the tongue. It was served with two small cubes of lemon jelly.


There are many expensive restaurants, and many that serve good food like a fantastic risotto or some really killer lasagna.  However, I'm happy we went to someplace where we each ate food we'd never tried before. Which is saying something for the two of us. I will not soon forget the dessert of a bowl of flowers, nor the tiny pinecone venison.

May 15, 2014

Innsbruck II

This morning, I enjoyed the complimentary breakfast and WiFi from the dining room looking across the Inn to the old city. Coffee, salami, cheese, bread with butter and jam, museli.

Thus fortified, I walked over to the Congress street station and terminus of the funicular line. Starchitect Zaha Hadid has an oddly intimate relationship with Innsbruck. She designed their iconic ski jump tower, as well as the stations for its funicular system. Actually, I like these stations the most of her work. They are early Zaha, small works. Swoopy curved plastic pavilion roofs in glacial sky blue lightly touching down on top of more rigid and angular concrete entryways and below ground. The swoopy parts look like they were inspired by melting chunks of ice, the glossy and organic curved plastic surfaces (artificial, smooth, mechanically formed) contrasted with the board-formed concrete (textured, hand made).

I bought a full ride up to the top of the mountain which turned out to be not so great of an idea. It was fun to take the big cable cars up and watch the rain turn to snow and climb higher into the mist shrouded peaks, but the problem was at the top, beyond the tree line, there was nothing but a mostly empty overlook, a closed trail to the peak, and nothing but blinding, excruciatingly white blankness beyond. It was like we were surrounded by a glowing white curtain.

I'd intended to do some hiking around at the lower stations but decided against it and rode back to town. Innsbruck is probably one of the few places you can stand in a Zaha project and look at another Zaha project, so I decided to hike over to her ski jump, which is also characterized by what we architects like to call "Swoopiness." It's also in the hills above the town, and on my way, I stumbled across a museum/restaurant overlook which looked suspiciously like the new addition to the St. Louis art museum. Oh, David Chipperfield, you trickster!

At that point, I was Zaha'd out so I took a photo at the entry gate and declined to pay the $10 entry fee to ride up to the top. Hiked back to the town, and hopped from cafe to cafe, writing postcards and drinking coffee, trying to avoid the rain as much as possible. I also stopped by the outdoor international climbing championships, which was having a youth climber day, so that was at least a level 3 of adorableness.

Picked up a few souvenirs and some Austrian Mozart themed chocolate for the other team members at the office. It seems like every city in Austria claims a part of the Mozart commercial legacy. I think that Mozart might have been born in Innsbruck? Or lived here for a certain number of years? Or his parents were from here? I can't remember.

The European City train was packed, not very nice, and filled with tourists coming from Italy. The ICE I'm riding now is much nicer. It feels like an upgrade to business class as we whiz across the dark Bavarian countryside. Back to work tomorrow, but at least it's the weekend after.

Innsbruck I

Springtime is the best season to avoid Innsbruck. It's still cold and rainy, and you don't get the benefit of either warm Alpine summer or the beautiful blanket of winter.

I am here because my office sent me, my first international business trip, albeit as a courier. I didn't get much sleep the night before, and I was out the door before six for my 7am train. Actually, I was very nervous because the package I was delivering represented several thousand euro of work and had to be delivered by that particular time or was nothing (and may still be for naught, but we'll see. Fingers crossed). The other concern was my phone was out of credit, so I couldn't make any calls.

At the station, I found an early opening kiosk and bought more phone credit, grabbed a few pastries and jumped on the high speed train to Munich. Changed trains in Munich's bright and airy station (Stuttgart has the ugliest train station I've ever seen, but it's working on it), and jumped on the slower train to Innsbruck.

It may be a bad time to visit, but the ride in from Munich is lovely, winding through Alpine valleys, past sleepy towns and misty, forest covered mountains, green, green, grüen.

In Innsbruck, I hopped in a cab and sped off to the office where I was delivering the package. Easy to find, went in, got a receipt and then I was officially done with my duties here.

From the office towards the outside of the city, I walked in towards the city center. It was raining lightly, and continued for the entire time I was here. It didn't influence in the slightest my impression of this damp, miserable little city.

Actually, I liked the city. The way the city grew out from its nearly medieval Altstadt old town, the density and feel remind me a bit of northern Italian cities, like Florence and Milan. There is something a but more fun and dynamic here than Stuttgart, even though the size is much smaller.

Of course, it is a huge college town and surrounded by snowy peaks filled with ski resorts so it's kind of a giant aprés ski village which adds to the feeling.

For a small city, there's a lot of contemporary architecture here. Works from both international stars and locals alike. The city seems oddly contemporary, with only buildings from very old times to the 1960s, and then a slew of work from 2000s onwards. Of course, it could also be that they had a bunch of postmodern architecture and tore it all down.

I stopped first for lunch at a kind of cafeteria part of a local grocery store. Bacon wrapped pork loin with hash browns and vegetable soup. Served with Zapfen Pfaff, the local lager, as light and effervescent as they come.

I wandered around most of the day. I stopped into a David Chipperfield designed mall which was actually very nicely integrated with the city and small and interesting inside. There was a new urban plaza with some nurby warps and, in place of a splash pad or fountain, giant rotating sprinklers for the Tyrolean tykes.

I stopped for coffee at Konditori Katherine in the Altstadt, a nice modern renovation in the ground floor of a building which must have been several hundred years old judging from the low, Gothic stone arches and vaulting. Nearby, a McDonald's was nearly as subtly integrated, with the major signage mostly concealed by the low vaulted colonnade.

The biggest attraction, for reasons which still baffle me, was the "golden roof", a bright copper roof over a large protruding room, part of the imperial apartments. It is not particularly big, not particularly beautiful, and yet tour groups flock to it. For me it falls into the Prague clock tower category of "town needs a central focus for tourists to photograph, preferably located in the center and surrounded by amenities."

The Altstadt, with its narrow, winding streets, cobblestones, and positively ancient construction reminded me strongly of the old center of Florence. This old city, too, was filled with souvenir stores, expensive restaurants, a Starwood Resort owned hotel or two, and a wide variety of boutiques.

My pack was weighing me down, so I crossed the turbulent and opaque turquoise Inn river to find my hostel on the opposite side. Gasthof Innsbrück is actually a budget hotel which feels a bit nicer than it actually is. An old, old building, with wood stairs and banisters, old bad oil paintings on the walls, lit by florescent tubes. It was somewhere between Wes Anderson and Quintin Tarentino, but less interesting. The hostel rooms are above the hotel rooms, which presumably come with private bathrooms.

Staff were nice, spoke English and sent me a confirmation email after I booked it. The room cost about €40 a night, super cheap for the location. For a hostel room it was great: my own private room with a table, TV, sink, and even towels. Great location, and breakfast was included with the room.

I was actually exhausted and so I took off my waterproof boots to let my feet breathe and took a short nap. A well located hotel room is priceless when you need a moment to use a bathroom, recharge, change clothes.

I finally got my chance to see the site where I had devoted much time in the past month, and I spent some time walking around it, taking photos and comparing the reality to what I'd seen and read on the computer.

For dinner, I went to the Triebhaus, a very bohemian place I'd stumbled across in my research, part museum, part bar, part performance venue in a concrete octagon tower. I grabbed two beers and some pizza while enjoying the scene. Wish Saori had been able to come, she would have really enjoyed it.

Wandered back through the Altstadt at night. It's a shame they didn't use any kind of uniform lighting. It was mostly dark and closed for the night, with a scattered array of different lamps and storefront lighting.

Jumped in the shower down the hall and collapsed into bed.

Incredible apartments



In searching for apartments, I came across this fascinating residence. According to the website details, the apartment is 75 square meters, of which a mere 10m square is usable space.

This may be accounted for when one considers that the apartment consists of three floors, on the third floor. Considering a very generous floor to floor height for the building, each floor of the apartment would be slightly less than a meter, or under 3' in height.

The 10 square meters of usable space probably refers to the areas where one sleeps, provided you don't have a high bed.

There is, however, a cellar, which being located mostly underground is also miraculously connected to one of three floors on the third floor.

Frühlingsfest

Saturday night, after a full day of working on the competition, I suggested to Saori that we go check out Frühlingsfest before it ended. Frühlingsfest is like a state fair, but dedicated explicitly to drinking beer. It runs nearly a month long, and started when I began noticing bros in Lederhosen and plaid and the girls in skirts and drindls appearing at the metro stations, and stumbling back wasted and obnoxious from 9 pm onwards.

It takes place at the city equivalent of the fairgrounds, down by the Necker River, which shows you how industrial the city views the river. Its a huge and long loop of carnival rides, beer tents of various sizes, food stalls, and arcade games. There's no admission fee, but everything is expensive. The food is good, though, they have Americans beat as far as carnival food goes. Tons of sausages, burgers, pasta, regional specialities, chocolate covered fruits, ice cream, etc.

We rode a few rides including the ferris wheel which had some great views of the city, and played some marksmanship games for a cheap plush toy. The weather was crappy but mostly cleared up by the time we had finished our first beer, and the rainy dusk gave way to a misty night which made the neon everywhere glow in the darkness.

It was fun, I'd go next year, but I'd wait for better weather.

May 10, 2014

Nice

We are into the final days of the competition, but it is remarkable how calm everything is. I'm working long hours, but not crazy hours. I generally leave before 8 pm every day, and I'm always the last person to leave the building. I'm not complaining, its just an observation. It allowed me to join Saori for dinner last night at her place (we cooked a huge pot of pasta for me since the only things I'd eaten that day were a bowl of museli and a bag of salad), and then we went to a party at her friend's house.

The party was in Bad Canstatt, a more suburban, newer development of Stuttgart across the river. Bad comes from the historic baths, but its also not an entirely unworthy name since the area is very bland, 70s and 80s architecture, and host to the regional stadium and fairgrounds, so the area gets flooded frequently with drunk and noisy revelers.

The party was an eclectic mix of friends of Saori's coworker. There were a few architects, a concert violinist, a chemical engineering scientist from the Max Planck institute, a fairly young and drunk student of English and PolySci, and a structural engineer who mostly works on tensile fabric structures in Saudi Arabia. This Latvian is a bit younger than me, and he hasn't traveled outside of Europe. We were talking about the city of Stuttgart and he commented that he liked living here better than Munich.

He said that Stuttgart is just 'nice', it's a nice place which is nicer than Munich. 'Nice' is a great summary of Stuttgart: the buildings are nice, they have a variety of nice neighborhoods, the shopping is nice, you can walk up the hills around the city and look down at the city. The center is not too big, the traffic is not bad, there's some good restaurants. The quality of life is good.

It doesn't have the cultural treasures of Berlin or the energy of Hamburg or Frankfurk, it's not historic like Aachen or particularly beautiful (although it's an undeniably 'pretty' city).

It feels like a city in search of itself, a Houston or an Atlanta, (but much, much more further along urbanistically than both of those!) To be fair, there's still a lot of Stuttgart I haven't seen, nor been to the very famous ballet company here.

You're so... nice.
You're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice.
I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right!
 I'm the witch- you're the world!

May 6, 2014

wandering

Tried to mail a graduation card to Tay today during my lunch break. I checked the websites of nearby post offices to make sure I wasn't landing on the lunch break. The one I went to, however, had different hours.

So I walked to the train station, looking for the post office which must surely be there. Nope. Nada. Keine. It's frustrating. Ended up walking back up the hill to the office since at that point, I'd spent about 40 minutes walking. I did discover a beautiful park I didn't really know existed before, however.

Sunday, on the bus to work, I passed a man on a bicycle puffing his way up the long hill where I live at the top. He was dressed in tweed and tweed shorts, with a newsman's cap. And then another. And two women with pillbox hats. A huge group of people, dressed from the 1940s, with number tagged to the back of their tweed jackets, dapper and hair gelled, racing to the top of Zeppelinstrasse. Stuttgart gained a few enjoyability points.

I drank two expressos this afternoon around five. I thought we would be working late, but we figured out the issues we needed and I sent out our models to be handmade just before 8pm. The usual guy who makes the models for the office was unavailable, so we went with plan B, the guy who used to head Herzog&deMeuron's model shop. Very expensive. But then, we don't have a very complicated model to make.

I got paid last week! I was really excited to actually have cash, pay the rent, renew my bus pass, and buy lunch that cost more than the two euros in my coin purse.

Sunday night, I sat down with Saori and we walked through filing taxes. Americans residing abroad get an extra two months to file their taxes. The catch, and boy is it a doozy of a catch, is that if you owe taxes, you still have to pay them like everyone else, by April 14.

The US tax system is awful. It's flat out stupid, unfair, and needlessly complicated. And the international taxes are worse. Why do we even need to file taxes with the US? We are not using US services, and there are even agreements in place between the US and Germany stating that generally speaking, if you pay taxes in Germany, you don't need to pay taxes in the US. So why all the paperwork for a null value?

If I were to create a federal tax system, I would eliminate all tax breaks, tax credits, and deductions. No rewards for marriage or kids or homeownership. (help for families should be provided elsewhere, not in the tax system). Tax would be based on income on a graduated curve- Capitalism favors wealth as a wealth generating device. The poor get the unfair burden of lowest rates of return on investment plus the highest risk. They need lower taxes than the rich, even percentage-wise.

Also, generally speaking, the greater the income inequalities, the greater loss of social stability and democratic processes.

Taxes would be deducted directly from income sources, and every year at tax time, everyone with income would get a notice indicating how much taxes they'd paid that year, and a breakdown of that year's federal budget. People would look forward to it.

Heidelbe

I hate losing work. I spent an hour riding out my caffiene binge at work writing a long post about Heidelberg. And the app I was using to write it lost it. Everything.

It was a great post, full of personal insights and fun things we did, with that je ne se quai (ranting about cars and Apple, Inc.) which is my blogging trademark.

It was a magnificent piece of travel journalism, frankly speaking. Transportive, authoritative, effervescent. One had only to read the first sentence before you too found yourself strolling down quaint cobblestoned alleys to the tranquil Rhine.

Not really, but it still pissed me off to lose the work. Now I have to write the short version just to remember that I went to Heidelberg back in '14 when antibiotics still worked and you could still buy meat on the open market.

Where was I?

Heidelberg. We caught a cheap B-W train ticket to the ancient university town. Highlights were the cute and cool boutique shopping in the old city along the Rhine, wandering the staggering ruins of the castle on the hill overlooking the city, and a freaking delicious dinner of pork knuckle complete with pork crackling skin still attached. Good stuff. And about two liters of beer between Saori and I. Good times.

You should have read the first post I did. You would have wept. Trust me.

May 2, 2014

decadence

If I havn't mentioned already, I'm working on a competition for a large mixed use music building. The program is crazy- there's a small theater with a flytower, a black box, a giant 600 square meter hall for performances by the symphony, three separate academic groups and conservatory spaces, a large library, and a restaurant.

The form that the boss gave us is distinctly shaped and small, but its driving me crazy trying to shoehorn in such large program elements into the volumes. It's a bit like trying to fit a shoe and a bottle of wine into a shoebox, and of course, maintaining large atriums and fora and making it work gracefully.

I actually worked through yesterday (May Day) a big public holiday here, and I came back to the office at 7am this morning, two hours before I needed to be here. I've been working 10 hour days and I'll be back here sunday morning too.

I'm short on sleep and cash (waiting for the paycheck to credit) and fried from this project.

But I'm going to be decadent and take saturday off.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...